May 31, 2018

The Visitation and Charity

Today's feast, the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth as it appears in St. Luke, and the in utero encounter of Jesus and John, brings back for me one of my earliest catholic sense-memories. It was right around the time when I decided that my search for a spiritual home was coming to a conclusion; I would become a catechumen and seek baptism in the Catholic Church. It was around Advent 1991.

Now that I was going to be a Catholic, I wanted to do Catholic stuff. One thing I was especially interested to learn about was the rosary. It seemed eminently Catholic. So I went to the local religious article shop and bought a cheap rosary and a little pamphlet that taught you how to use it. I didn't know that one usually gets a rosary blessed, so I just went ahead and used it. I have such a visual memory of the pamphlet. On one side was the text of the prayers and an explanation of the order in which they were to be said, and on the other was a chart of the mysteries. It was a tri-fold sort of pamphlet, and had three columns for the three sets of mysteries. (This was before the Luminous Mysteries.) For each of the mysteries there was a little picture of the corresponding scene, and underneath something called 'the fruit of the mystery,' which was usually one of the virtues.

I was a little perplexed by the 'fruit of the mystery' business. For the Visitation the 'fruit' was charity. Was an increase in charity my prize for meditating on the mystery, or contemplating the little picture while I said the decade? Did particular meditations nurture certain virtues? In many cases I could see the obvious connections between the mysteries and the virtues that were called their fruits, but in the case of the Visitation I didn't really see it. Mary went to visit Elizabeth, Jesus and John had their first meeting, and it was all very beautiful and mysterious, but I didn't see how Mary's visit had something to do with charity.

It just shows how shallow my sense of spiritual things was at the time, and why not, since I was just beginning this journey. Grace often shows us only the very next step, and this is enough for someone with faith. It is also a mercy. "I have much more to tell you," says Jesus at the Last Supper, "but you cannot bear it now,"

What the mystery of the Visitation has do with charity is really quite plain. In fact, it is the model of charity par excellence. For charity is nothing else but bringing the presence of Jesus Christ to our neighbor, and this is what Mary does in the most perfect and complete way. Mary receives the Word of God, conceives it in her body, nurtures it, and then brings that presence to Elizabeth and the unborn John, both of whom cannot help but rejoice.

This is the Marian spirituality of the Church and of her individual members; what Mary did historically, each of us--and the Church as a whole--is called to do spiritually: we are to hear the Word of God announced to us, give it a home in our hearts and lives, nurture it, and give it birth into the world in our relationships and in the various settings of our existence.

This spiritual process begins with hearing the Word of God and especially in receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. We then nurture this presence within us by prayer and reflection, allowing it to grow. Before long, as we seek this grace in prayer, the Holy Spirit will reveal to us how we can bring this Presence into the various relationships and situations of our lives, giving a spiritual birth to Jesus Christ in the world.

We can also remember how we are called to the charity of Elizabeth. By being an 'Elizabeth' with regard to the Marian vocation of others, we support and rejoice with them as they seek to gestate and bear the Word of God.

May each Christian live the vocation to the motherhood of Mary, of being a conceiver, nurturer, and bearer of the presence of Christ to the world. And may each have also the charity of Elizabeth, to support and care for others through all the dangers, fears, and unknowns of this vocation. With Elizabeth, when encountering another Christian, a bearer of the presence of Christ, let us say with wonder, "And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"

May 28, 2018

Gaudete et exsultate: The Examination of Conscience

May the Lord set the Church free from these new forms of gnosticism and pelagianism that weigh her down and block her progress along the path to holiness! These aberrations take various shapes, according to the temperament and character of each person. So I encourage everyone to reflect and discern before God whether they may be present in their lives. (62)
In obedience to the Holy Father, I have tried to make this examination of conscience that he encourages. And I admit that I feel rather stuck at least with regard to how I guess it is supposed to apply to me.

(Just as a caveat I want to say that in my opinion the terms pelagianism and gnosticism are used rather loosely in the document. But that would be another post.)

Of the dangers presented under "new pelagians," the one that I suppose would apply to me is "a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy." (57)

May 12, 2018

Gaudete et exsultate: Catholics Online

Christians too can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication. Even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned. The result is a dangerous dichotomy, since things can be said there that would be unacceptable in public discourse, and people look to compensate for their own discontent by lashing out at others. It is striking that at times, in claiming to uphold the other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying, and ruthlessly vilify others. Here we see how the unguarded tongue, set on fire by hell, sets all things ablaze (cf. Jas 3:6). (115)
I quote that section of James often enough with penitents; the tongue is a small organ but it gets us in all kinds of big trouble.

I first came online back in 1993 when I was a senior in college. Before long I discovered the IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and its Catholic channels, as well as a Catholic listserv for which I promptly signed up. I was very innocent in those days, having been a Catholic for only about a year and with most of my knowledge of the Church having come from books, and I wasn't sure what to make of what I found, which was a lot of arguing and fighting. That's not to say that I didn't jump in myself when I knew that I was right about something ... because I had looked it up, thank you very much. I still have some of that attitude in me and it continues to get me in trouble. (More on that in the planned final post on Gaudete et exsultate, tentatively titled 'examination of conscience.')

May 9, 2018

Gaudete et exsultate: Little Choices

This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures. Here is an example: a woman goes shopping, she meets a neighbor and they begin to speak, and the gossip starts. But she says in her heart: “No, I will not speak badly of anyone”. This is a step forward in holiness. Later, at home, one of her children wants to talk to her about his hopes and dreams, and even though she is tired, she sits down and listens with patience and love. That is another sacrifice that brings holiness. Later she experiences some anxiety, but recalling the love of the Virgin Mary, she takes her rosary and prays with faith. Yet another path of holiness. Later still, she goes out onto the street, encounters a poor person and stops to say a kind word to him. One more step. (16)
Just as theology is the queen of the sciences, which are only complete and reach their full flourishing under its light, so holiness is the first form of health within which all other well-being finds its rightful place and fullness.

And just as our bodily health is preserved and nourished by little, everyday choices, so it is with holiness. As Pope Francis points out, it is these small options for a turn to prayer, for charity, and especially for being willing to suffer for the good of another, that set us on the path towards being the saints God wills and delights for us to become.

April 21, 2018

Gaudete et exsultate: The Real History of the World

Pope Francis exhorts us, with the help of Edith Stein:
Let us be spurred on by the signs of holiness that the Lord shows us through the humblest members of that people which “shares also in Christ’s prophetic office, spreading abroad a living witness to him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity”. We should consider the fact that, as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross suggests, real history is made by so many of them. As she writes: “The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night. But for the most part, the formative stream of the mystical life remains invisible. Certainly the most decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed” (8)
This reminded me of something from Thomas Merton:
I wonder if there are twenty men alive in the world now who see things as they really are. That would mean that there were twenty men who were free, who were not dominated or even influenced by any attachment to any created thing or to their own selves or to any gift of God, even to the highest, the most supernaturally pure of His graces. I don't believe that there are twenty such men alive in the world. But there must be one or two. They are the ones who are holding everything together and keeping the universe from falling apart. (from "Detachment" in New Seeds of Contemplation)
One of the gifts of priesthood for me has been the opportunity to meet, usually in confession, some of these hidden saints. It is they, not the robbers writ large that one sees each day in the news, who are the protagonists of the true history of the world, which is the creation's pilgrimage toward full transfiguration in the Risen Christ.

April 20, 2018

Gaudete et exsultate: Community

I took some time to read Gaudete et exsultate. Anything I would say about it generally has already been posted here and there, so there's no need for me to repeat it. I do have some personal reflections to share, however, on this exhortation to holiness. This is the first.
In salvation history, the Lord saved one people. We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual. Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in a human community. God wanted to enter into the life and history of a people. (6)
In religious life it's a commonplace to say that the reasons you entered are not the same reasons you have stayed. In the same way, what you anticipated as being the greatest challenges don't turn out to be the things you struggle with the most. Conversely, what seemed like an easy thing when you first professed can become a great struggle. I am sure that those who are married or in any other sort of particular vocation have analogous experiences.

When I made my religious profession, I had not thought much about the line, Therefore, I entrust myself with all my heart to this brotherhood. As time has gone on, however, I realize that this is one of the most challenging aspects of the whole business.

April 1, 2018

The Easter Itinerancy

(An old post updated)

Every year on this holy night I reflect on the grace of itinerancy that the Holy Spirit has given me; only twice in my whole baptism have I been in the same place for the Easter Vigil for more than two years in a row. When I think about the places I've been for the Vigil, it puts me in awe of God and in a state of gratitude for my journey.